Newton features mix of young and old; West Aurora youngsters rising

Newton would like to get back to Redbird Arena in 2018, but the Lady Eagles will have to get there without last year’s leading attacker Abby Frohning.

School: Champaign Centennial
Conference: Big Twelve
Head coach: Taylor Swords       
Last season’s highlights: 10-25 overall, 4-5 in conference, lost 25-17, 25-14 to Pekin in a Class 4A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: Senior defensive specialist Hannah Luchinski, sophomore setter Leah Luchinski, senior setter Jenna Woods.
Coach’s quote: “We are very excited to have a new coaching staff and many new, young players. We are only returning two seniors, who are excellent leaders on and off the court. We are looking for great things from all returning players and the new players will give us more depth.”

School: Deer Creek-Mackinaw
Conference: Heart of Illinois
Head Coach: Brandon Mueller
Last season’s highlights: 29-7-1 overall, 12-1 in conference, took second at the Pekin invite, won the East Moline invite and Heart of Illinois conference tournament, lost 25-20, 28-26 to Eureka in a Class 2A sectional final.
Top returnees: 5-9 senior outside hitter Carson Smalley, 5-7 senior setter Morgan Burr, 5-8 senior outside hitter Kassie Rich, 5-9 senior outside hitter Jadyn Block, 6-0 senior middle hitter Addy Gruse.
Top newcomers: 5-6 senior defensive specialist Kaitlin Creager, 5-8 junior setter Shelby DeBolt, 5-9 junior setter/rightside hitter Hope McGinnes.
Coach’s quote: “We have a lot of experience at the varsity level. We look to compete in every match and continue to get better and hopefully playing our best volleyball at the end of the season.” 
Outlook: Deer Creek-Mackinaw figures to contend for top honors in the Heart of Illinois with Eureka, which returns every starter save its setter, including 6-0 middle hitter Haley Flowers and her 372 kills in 2017.

School: Forreston
Conference: Northwest Upstate Illini
Head coach: Shannon Williams       
Last season’s highlights: 24-12 overall, 9-4 in conference, won Byron Classic tournament, lost 25-22, 25-22 to Dakota in a Class 2A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-11 senior outside hitter Katie Erdmann, 5-7 junior outside hitter Alexus Houston.
Top newcomers: 5-9 senior opposite hitter Kaitlyn Mateika, 5-10 senior setter Grace Carr.
Coach’s quote: “We have a good core group returning this season and are hoping their experience will help carry us to continue to improve our program here at Forreston.”
Outlook: Forreston will compete with perennial conference powers Dakota, Durand and Lena-Winslow both in the league and the state tournament.

School: Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley
Conference: Heart of Illinois
Head coach: Taylor Rubarts       
Last season’s highlights: 5-22 overall; 2-13 in conference, lost 25-7, 25-16 to (Downs) Tri-Valley in a Class 2A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-9 sophomore outside/middle hitter Jessica Freehill, 5-7 junior libero/rightside hitter Madison Eberle, 5-7 junior setter Mady Schutte, 5-7 junior outside hitter Emily Clinton.
Top newcomers: 5-8 freshman outside/middle hitter Payton Allen.
Coach’s quote: “We are coming in with five upperclassmen. The rest will consist of freshmen and sophomores, so we will be looking to improve as a team fundamentally and compete in every single match.”
Outlook: The Heart of Illinois Conference is loaded as usual with Deer Creek Mackinaw, Eureka and Tri-Valley rating as favorites and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley looking to improve on last year’s finish.

School: Newton
Conference: Little Illini
Head Coach: Jill Kistner
Last season’s highlights: 30-8 overall, 8-0 in conference, lost 25-19, 28-26 to Quincy Notre Dame in Class 2A state semifinals, defeated Harvest Christian 20-25, 29-27, 25-22 in third-place match.
Top returnees: 5-4 junior libero Kelsi Geltz, 5-11 senior middle hitter Ali Bierman, 5-8 junior setter Maddi Hemrich, 5-10 junior outside hitter Renee Probst.
Coach’s quote: “We are returning four starters, but we lost our leader in kills and assists. We are a good mix of young and experienced players.”   
Outlook: Gone is Abby Frohning, who had more than 365 kills last season and was second on the team in assists and digs. Also gone is Mariah Earnest and her 100 kills. The Eagles will turn to Bierman and Probst to carry the offense until the youngsters get up to speed.
Outlook: Teutopolis and Robinson should give Newton a run for its money in the Little Illini.

School:
 Robinson
Conference: Little Illini
Head coach: Eric Dean
Last season’s highlights: 16-13 overall, 4-4 in conference, lost 25-12, 25-14 to Newton in a Class 2A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-10 senior middle blocker Lauren Weber, 5-6 senior setter Gracie Shidler.
Coach’s quote: “We are a very experienced team. We have a lot of seniors who played as juniors at the varsity level last year.”
Outlook: Robinson hopes to parlay its experience into conference contention.

School:
 St. Charles North     
Conference: DuKane
Head coach: Lindsey Hawkins          
Last season’s highlights: 37-7 overall, conference champions, lost 25-20, 25-12 to Minooka in a Class 4A state semifinal, lost 25-19, 9-25, 25-23 to Crystal Lake Central in the Class 4A fourth-place game.
Top returnees: 6-0 senior rightside hitter/setter Katie Lanz (283 kills, 231 assists, 84 aces, 290 digs through the 2017 supersectional), 5-10 senior outside hitter Gigi Crescenzo (200 kills, 288 digs).
Top newcomer: 5-10 junior rightside hitter/setter Kyla Lannert.
Coach’s quote: “After graduating 11 seniors, we are looking at a rebuilding year. We still have our top two studs from last year’s squad so we will compete at a high level, but it will take some time to get all the newcomers acclimated to the system we run.”
Outlook: St. Charles North will be pressed to repeat as conference champions in the new DuKane Conference which features Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles East, Glenbard North, Wheaton North, Lake Park and Wheaton Warrenville South. But with Lanz and Crescenzo on the court, the North Stars will be a tough out for any team they face.

School: Stagg 
Conference: Southwest Suburban Blue
Head coach: Deanna Storino      
Last season’s highlights: 21-13 overall, 4-4 in conference, lost 23-25, 25-20, 25-12 to Lincoln-Way Central in a Class 4A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 5-11 senior outside hitter Nikki Marsh (270- kills, 245 digs,  23 aces, 38 blocks), 5-10 senior outside hitter Deidra Foley (171 kills, 28 blocks, 22 aces, 152 digs).
Coach’s quote: “Nikki and Deidra have started on varsity since their freshman year. We are hoping to see big things from them this season.”
Outlook: Sandburg, Lincoln-Way East and an improved Lockport team should be Stagg’s biggest obstacles in conference.

School: West Aurora
Conference: Upstate Eight
Head coach: Kevin Mortlock
Last season’s highlights: 17-19 overall, 3-2 in conference, took second at the Blackhawk invite and third at the Glenbrook North Discovery tournament, lost 25-21, 25-16 to Naperville North in a Class 4A regional semifinal.
Top returnees: 6-0 junior rightside hitter Kendra Battle, 6-1 sophomore outside hitter and all-conference honorable mention selection Chloey Myers (left), 5-8 junior libero Lauren Greenwood, 5-9 junior outside hitter Olivia Mcpherson, 5-9 junior setter Kiara Mcpherson, 5-10 junior setter Jenna Millen.
Coach’s quote: “West Aurora finished 17-19 with three seniors, one junior, one freshman and eight sophomores on the roster. We are bringing back nine returning varsity players who have been playing together all off-season. This year, we are focusing on team chemistry while working hard to win close matches. We have our sights set high and will do everything we can to accomplish our goals.”
Outlook: The Upstate Eight has a new look in 2018. Gone are Batavia, Geneva, St. Charles East and St. Charles North. Glenbard East and newcomer Glenbard South figure to battle West Aurora for conference honors. A tough nonconference schedule features Naperville Central, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Geneva and Wheaton North.
Did you know? Lose one pair, gain another. West Aurora graduated a pair of twins – Natalie and Gillian Jones – in 2016, but has another pair in Kiara and Olivia Mcpherson this fall.

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